What happened on day one of IndyCar’s pre-season test

by Jack Benyon
4 min read

Andretti Autosport had a strong start to IndyCar’s first and only full-field pre-season test, going fastest in both the morning and afternoon sessions at the Los Angeles-based Thermal circuit with Colton Herta.

IndyCar hasn’t had a pre-season group test since the ill-fated Austin event in 2020 which was hit by rainstorms that rendered on-track action all but irrelevant.

Even if Thermal isn’t your average pre-season testing venue – it’s a track for private members who have paid as much as $5million to join, and it cost $270million to build – it has still proven much more relevant to the season ahead than the Texas running three years ago, even if it caught many drivers out.

Colton Herta Andretti IndyCar

Californian driver Herta had been fastest in the morning Palm Springs sunshine but his best time from the AM was only good enough for 11th overall as many drivers improved with familiarisation on the track and tweaks to car-set-up.

A resurgent Alex Palou had looked like the driver to beat in the afternoon having been only 11th for Chip Ganassi Racing in the morning, but just like he had earlier when he beat new team-mate Kyle Kirkwood, Herta jumped to the top of the order with a time almost six tenths of a second better than his erstwhile session topper.

It was a good day for Andretti with Kirkwood impressive in the morning, although he only managed to complete one lap in the afternoon due to a clutch issue. Romain Grosjean headed both sessions at one point and ended the day fourth fastest behind Palou.

Jumping both Palou and Grosjean was Rahal Letterman Lanigan’s Christian Lundgaard, with the reigning rookie of the year moving on from a spin at Turn 3 inside the last half hour to deliver a succession of rapid laps culminating in second place.

Inside the last eight minutes, Will Power took the honour as the fastest Chevrolet as the reigning champion slotted into fifth ahead of Scott Dixon, who himself jumped up right at the last possible moment before a red flag ended the session a minute early.

The impressive sophomore Callum Ilott was the only non-Penske Chevrolet runner in the top 10 in sixth, and while his new Juncos Hollinger team-mate was well down the order, he still might be one of the stories of the day.

Agustin Canapino – coming from Argentina and tin-tops – has learned English in less than three months and was the second best rookie in both sessions, in the second managing a time only just over a second adrift of Herta on the relatively long for IndyCar 2.9-mile and 17-turn circuit.

Agustin Canapino Juncos IndyCar

Clearly his dedication is helping his transition to a single-seater so far at least, and he was quicker in the afternoon than last year’s Indy Lights runner-up Sting Ray Robb, although Robb’s focus appeared to be mileage as he notched a whopping 63 laps altogether on four sets of tyres.

Behind Ilott, Scott McLaughlin was another late improver in seventh. Notably his Penske team-mate Josef Newgarden was only 17th in the afternoon although he had been fifth in the slower morning session.

Simon Pagenaud took ninth in an important test for the Meyer Shank team which is aiming to alleviate its tyre wear issues, with team-mate Helio Castroneves spinning in the morning and only managing 26th and 24th in the two sessions

The highest-placed rookie rounded out the top 10 for Ganassi, with Marcus Armstrong ahead of his Indianapolis 500 winning team-mate Marcus Ericsson in both sessions.

It looked like a subdued day for the Arrow McLaren team – although reading too much into testing times is always risky.

Pato O’Ward was the team’s best finisher in both sessions but was 14th and 15th respectively. Alexander Rossi was 19th and 16th in his first test with the team while Felix Rosenqvist brought out two red flags for spins at Turn 2 and off the front stretch.

The action resumes with the final day of testing on Friday, with the morning session from 0900-1100 PT (1700-1900 UK) followed by the afternoon session between 1330-1630 PT (2130-1230 UK).

Thursday morning top 10

Pos Driver Team Time Laps
1 Colton Herta Andretti Autosport 1m39.9303s 19
2 Kyle Kirkwood Andretti Autosport 1m40.0236s 20
3 Simon Pagenaud Meyer Shank Racing 1m40.1178s 20
4 Rinus VeeKay Ed Carpenter Racing 1m40.1913s 23
5 Josef Newgarden Team Penske 1m40.2062s 24
6 Will Power Team Penske 1m40.3527s 24
7 Romain Grosjean Andretti Autosport 1m40.3810s 10
8 Marcus Armstrong Chip Ganassi Racing 1m40.5302s 25
9 Scott Dixon Chip Ganassi Racing 1m40.5930s 18
10 Jack Harvey Rahal Letterman Lanigan 1m40.6046s 24

Thursday afternoon top 10

Pos Driver Team Time Laps
1 Colton Herta Andretti Autosport 1m39.3721s 22
2 Christian Lundgaard Rahal Letterman Lanigan 1m39.3767s 29
3 Alex Palou Chip Ganassi Racing 1m39.3970s 28
4 Will Power Team Penske 1m39.5690s 25
5 Romain Grosjean Andretti Autosport 1m39.4826s 26
6 Scott Dixon Chip Ganassi Racing 1m39.6211s 18
7 Callum Ilott Juncos Hollinger Racing 1m39.6673s 26
8 Scott McLaughlin Team Penske 1m39.7657s 23
9 Simon Pagenaud Meyer Shank Racing 1m39.7862s 24
10 Marcus Armstrong Chip Ganassi Racing 1m39.9077s 21
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